After opening its first season with a solid pilot, NBC’s Smash took a bit of a nosedive with a pair of episodes that were nowhere as strong. But with its fourth outing, titled “The Cost of Art,” the Katharine McPhee starrer regained some of the ground—not to mention four percent of the viewers—it lost.
In this week’s episode, Karen Cartwright (Katharine) and company learned that everything, especially dreams of fame and fortune, comes with a hefty price tag. Everyone involved in the production of Marilyn the Musical came face to face with the realization that they all had to pay a certain price to do what they love—or, in other words, to be able to pursue their passion for the arts.
In Karen’s case, she realized that being in the chorus wouldn’t be as easy as she thought it would be. First off, the other members of the chorus were all firmly on Ivy Lynn’s (Megan Hilty) side when the episode began. When workshops for Marilyn the Musical began, the dancers and singers Karen worked alongside were determined to make the new girl earn her spurs. I actually felt bad for Karen, watching her struggle to find her place in the chorus. It couldn’t have been easy for her to watch Ivy play the part she once dreamed of playing. Imagine you’re being forced to watch the one you love fall for someone else while that person is rubbing your nose in it. That’s probably how Karen felt watching Ivy. But because Karen wants to build an acting career, she has to pay the price of suffering silently while the spotlight shines on Ivy.
Speaking of Ivy, she was bordering on bitchy this week. Because Karen had yet to learn how to blend in with the rest of the chorus, she kept unintentionally upstaging Ivy during workshops, which pissed Ivy off. She tried to put Karen in her place with a thinly-veiled put-down (e.g. “Well, I’m singing it now”), but when that didn’t work she tried to get Derek Wills (Jack Davenport) and Tom Levitt (Christian Borle) to remove Karen from two numbers. The former got her way, much to her delight and Karen’s dismay. That development made for good TV, but I just had a hard time accepting the idea that someone as inexperienced as Karen could outshine a ten-year Broadway chorus veteran like Ivy. It seemed like too much of a stretch for me.
Ivy also had to accept that stardom comes with a price—in her case, it’s her sense of security. While she may act like a bitch when it’s convenient for her, deep inside she’s a softie. She just wants to feel secure in the fact that she won both Derek’s heart and the title role in the musical he’s directing. So when she saw Derek flirting shamelessly with another woman at a party (“Your hand was on her ass,” she hissed when Derek confronted her towards the end of the episode), and when she learned that Karen had been given a spot in the ensemble at Julia Houston’s (Debra Messing) behest, Ivy freaked. When she confessed her fears to Derek by saying she just wants to feel safe, he replied, somewhat coldly, “There’s nothing safe about being a star.” I agreed with Derek, even though he’s not one of my favorite characters. You can’t play it safe if you really want to make it, especially in a field as tough as the American theater. You have to take risks. This week, Ivy learned that lesson the hard way.
Meanwhile, Eileen Rand’s (Anjelica Huston) predicament gave the episode’s title a different meaning. She spent the whole hour trying to raise enough money to cover the cost of producing Marilyn the Musical. After learning from her lawyer that her former business partner and husband Jerry (Michael Cristofer) found a clever way to hide the two hundred grand she needs, Eileen decides to do something drastic. She takes one of her paintings to an art dealer and attempts to sell it for cash, but fails when the dealer reminds her that Jerry would have to sign off on the transaction because the painting is still in his name.
But Eileen doesn’t give up and reconnects with Lyle West (Nick Jonas), a former protégé of hers at a party Derek organized in honor of Lyle’s birthday. Barely keeping her desperation in check, Eileen tries to sell Lyle the painting. He makes a deal with Eileen, who then gets a stunned Julia to gather most of the principal members of Marilyn the Musical’s cast. They end up singing a song from the musical for Derek’s guests. The number goes down a treat, and Eileen gets the money she needs. Yay for Lyle! Which reminds me—I’d like to take this moment to say that I enjoyed Nick’s take on the Michael Buble hit “Haven’t Met You Yet.” I thought his voice was much better on it than it ever was on any of the music he released prior to appearing on Smash. I hope Nick can come back to the show at some point.
“The Cost of Art” ends with Karen going dancing at a bar with some of the Marilyn chorus members. Earlier in the episode, one of the female dancers takes pity on Karen and tries to teach her how to blend in when performing as part of the chorus. Whether or not they were successful is something us viewers will have to watch out for in future episodes. Something else I’d like to see more of in the coming weeks is Tom’s burgeoning romance with that guy his mother, of all people, set him up with. I was pleased to see the show’s resident gay man get some lovin’. Yay mom indeed!
All in all, I thought this was a return to form for Smash after a pair of episodes that didn’t have much to offer by way of structured, well-paced storytelling. Again, the musical numbers in this episode were placed in the right spots, and they didn’t choke the story, if you know what I mean. As much as I love Glee, I think Ryan Murphy and his team would do well to take a cue from the writers of this series.
Smash Promo for Next Week